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SPITTING MAD? A CAUTIONARY MESSAGE TO PARTICIPANTS AT ALL LEVELS

Players at all levels of the amateur and semi-professional game should consider the recently published written reasons[1] of David Casement QC in the Football Association Rule K arbitration between James Holden of Cale Green FC, Cheshire County FA and the FA.

Mr Casement QC was dealing with the appeal of Mr Holden, a player who had been charged by Cheshire FA, his county football association, with assault on a match official under FA Rule E3[2]. The disciplinary commission convened by Cheshire FA to hear the charges against Mr Holden found as facts that he had headbutted and painfully grabbed the testicles of a match official.

Despite that finding of fact, Mr Holden’s legal team threw a spotlight on the meaning of assault on a match official by arguing that the official concerned had not been caused “injury” because he suffered no physical or mental injury of a continuing observable nature.

The disciplinary commission, an FA Appeal Board and ultimately Mr Casement QC therefore had to consider the meaning of paragraph 14(2)(c)[3] of the Football Association’s Memorandum of Procedures for Field Offences 2013-14, which defined assault on a match official. Paragraph 14(2)(c) said as follows:

Assault: participant acts in a manner which results in an injury to the official. This category includes spitting at the official whether it connects or not. 

On the facts of the case, the disciplinary commission, the Appeal Board and Mr Casement QC were all convinced that the actions of Mr Holden amounted to assault within paragraph 14.2(c). That should not be in the least surprising, but Mr Casement QC’s discussion of the meaning of the offence is informative (paragraphs 16 to 18):

  1. In my judgment the meaning of Rule 14.2(c) is clear. It is not sufficient… to prove there was an assault on a match official. It is also necessary to prove that injury resulted from the assault. That is the major point of distinction between category (b) and (c) of the Rules. However the injury that is required to be proved is not limited to physical injury. It would have been entirely open to those who drafted the rules to insert the word “physical” or other limiting words before “injury” or to limit the type of injury by reference to the distinction at criminal law between common assault and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. If the rule had been drafted in such a way as to incorporate criminal case law then a clear distinction would have been drawn between physical and psychological injury on the one hand and emotional injury on the other…

[1] James Holden v (1) The Football Association & (2) The Cheshire County Football Association; Rule K Arbitration. Available at the following link: http://www.thefa.com/news/governance/2014/dec/james-holden-arbitration-181214

[2] FA Rule E3(1): A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.

[3] Paragraph 15(2) of the current, 2014-15, Memorandum of Procedures for Field Offences.


[1] James Holden v (1) The Football Association & (2) The Cheshire County Football Association; Rule K Arbitration. Available at the following link: http://www.thefa.com/news/governance/2014/dec/james-holden-arbitration-181214

[2] FA Rule E3(1): A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.

[3] Paragraph 15(2) of the current, 2014-15, Memorandum of Procedures for Field Offences.

  1. Physical injury for the purposes of Rule 14.2 need not be lasting and/or observable physical harm. It is clear that it must be something more than trivial harm but I can see no reason to imply a limitation whereby the harm must be observable or lasting. The present case is a good example of physical injury because the finding of the Commission, which is unchallenged, is that there was a painful grabbing of the match official’s testicles by Mr Holden… In my judgment the infliction of pain to the testicles of the official as a result of the grabbing by Mr Holden is an assault causing more than trivial injury and it is irrelevant that the injury is not observable, verifiable by way of medical evidence or long lasting. Likewise it does not cease to be an injury because the pain subsides after a short period.
  1. Furthermore, in my judgment it is also not necessary for the injury to be physical. There are no such words of limitation in Rule 14.2. I am also fortified in this conclusion by the closing words of Rule 14.2 of the Rules which provide that “This category includes spitting at the official whether it connects or not”. It is clear that this inclusion is aimed at a type of injury which is not physical, the spitting does not even need to connect. The only realistic type of injury that might be caused by spitting is emotional injury and that would include undermining the position of the official in question. The inclusion of spitting in this category is very telling because if physical or mental injury was a pre-requisite of this category, as asserted on behalf of Mr Holden, then a spitting offence would not fall within any category and therefore would not be subject to any sanction.”

Players would do well to note the width of the definition as explained by Mr Casement QC since, if the charge of assault on a match official is proved, the recommended punishment[1] is, as was applied in Mr Holden’s case, “suspension from all football activities indefinitely (sine die) with no review for at least 5 years from the date of suspension”. If the assault results in serious injury, the review period is extended to 10 years.

Mr Casement QC’s decision includes a clear warning:

“In my judgment players must be aware that under Rule 14.2(c) if a player assaults a match official or spits at a match official (whether it connects or not) and which results in injury of a physical, mental or emotional nature which is more than trivial then they are likely to face a five year suspension from football subject to any aggravating or mitigating factors. That is the clear effect of Rule 14.2(c)”

That warning should be heeded by all players and other participants. Even the slightest attack on an official can lead to an indefinite ban.

The reference to spitting in particular should be noted. The effect of the rule is that spitting on the ground (a common occurrence on pitches up and down the country) might see a player banned indefinitely if the match official takes the view the spitting was directed at him or her and a disciplinary commission is persuaded that was the case.

Are players and other participants aware that spitting in the direction of a match official could see them banned from the game indefinitely? They need to be.

BRAD POMFRET, 23ES COMMERCIAL
https://twitter.com/bradpomfret


[4] Paragraph 15 (5) of the 2014-15 Memorandum of Procedures for Field Offences.

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